Sunday, July 08, 2007

Stage 1 - Sunday, July 8: London - Canterbury, 203km

At the start of the day (and I did wake up for Versus 5:30 am coverage) the talk was focused on which of the Brits would win the day. Of course, that's not what happened -- this is the Tour de France after all. The day started early with attack after attack, but it was David Millar who made the biggest impact. He road off the front and never looked back. Eventually he was caught by four chasers and the five of them made a good fight to stay away from the peloton.

The rest of the day, until the end, was almost uneventful. There were several crashes, one particularly bad, involving a favorite, Xabier Zandio. He did finish the stage, but I don't know if he'll start tomorrow (I hope so, though). Robbie McEwen also crashed early on. The rest of the day was spent watching the peloton drive on and admiring the scenery.

And, truth be told, England is beautiful. The part of England the Tour rode through looked more like France than the traditional idea of England. I must say that this is one of the best things about flat stages -- the scenes from the helicopters and the motor bikes. Another wonderful thing about this stage was that the crowds were amazing. Even with the Wimbledon Final and the F1 British GP race (both of which I watched while watching cycling -- thank god for the internet), the crowds were just wonderful. They were like the crowds in France or other continental countries the riders go through.

There was excitement, though. It came near the end of the stage. The breakaway was caught after a flurry of attacks and riders dropping off the break. Millar was the first to go, after all he'd been out since early on. The rest soon followed and the peloton charged on to the sprint finish. No British riders won the day, in fact one of the local favorites, Mark Cavendish, crashed and never got a chance to sprint for the win.

It was, instead, one of the most amazing sprint finishes ever. While I was watching, I though maybe Zabel or Boonen were going to get a great leadout and Milram were racing their hearts out. But it wasn't to be. Instead, out of nowhere (and with a hurt wrist from his earlier crash) it was Robbie McEwen who blew the rest of us away. Somehow, without anyone noticing, McEwen recovered enough to beat the best sprinters in the Tour. And, much to my surprise, he did it without doing any of the tactics that have, in years past, pissed me off.

1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 4.47.51
2 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0.13
3 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval - Prodir 0.21
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.23
5 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
6 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 0.25
7 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne 0.26
8 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 0.29
9 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0.30

The top ten change a bit, with Millar pushing his way up into third place -- great result after two days in England. And with Wiggins in fifth, I think the British are pleased. I, for one, and pleased to see Vino up there. Something about the stage that pleased me was the fourth place riders, Seb Chavanel, coming in fourth. The FDJ rider, in what I believe is his first tour, did a great job. His brother, and my favorite, Sylvain, is down one place in 20th. I have high hopes for him, as I always do, but we'll just have to wait and see.

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